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Tighten tests to ensure older motorists fit to drive, says lawyer

Eyesight should be tested and fitness to drive certified by responsible person, Fatal Accident Inquiry told

A lawyer in Scotland says that rules should be tightened to ensure that older motorists are fit to drive. The appeal was made in evidence submitted to a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) in Scotland following the death of a cyclist who was involved in a collision with a driver aged 93.

Alice Ross, now aged 96, blacked out while driving her car in 2011, killing 30-year-old cyclist Elaine Dunne. The victim, from Leicestershire, was on a cycling holiday with her husband celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Mr Dunne was seriously injured in the incident.

Last year, charges of causing death by dangerous driving against Mrs Ross, who had no recollection of the crash, were dropped after prosecutors accepted her defence that her blackouts were due to an underlying medical condition.

In documents submitted to the FAI at Wick Sheriff Court, procurator-fiscal Alasdair MacDonald said that people in their 80s and beyond should have to undergo check-ups on their health.

He also said they should be required to renew their driving licence every two years and produce a statement corroborated by a suitably responsible person certifying the person’s fitness to drive, reports Herald Scotland.

In the UK, motorists aged 70 and above need to reapply for their licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) every three years, but the system has been criticised because it relies on self-certification.

The Department for Transport has been pushing for the age threshold to be increased, saying that Britain’s ageing population means it is getting inundated with applications for renewal of licences.

Mr MacDonald highlighted that in the Canadian province of Ontario, drivers aged 80 and over have to undergo a written test and eye examination every two years in order for their licence to be renewed.

"The local testing centres, introduced by the DVLA to make provision for the theory element of the driving test, could also with relative ease be adapted to basic tests of the nature in use in Ontario designed to easily and quickly check visual and mental acuity,” he said.

“While such alterations to the licensing system might not have prevented this tragedy, they might prevent others."

Road safety charity Brake also said the system of testing for older drivers needs to be overhauled, with eyesight tested each time a driver aged 70 or more reapplies for a licence.

"There is an issue with the DVLA's system, largely based on self-appraisal and certification, when instead there ought to be a more rigorous system,” it said.

“There is no requirement for drivers to prove their standard of vision apart from the number-plate test, only conducted when they do their test, and it is a flawed test anyway as it doesn't check for visual field or contrast sensitivity."

Last year, a report commissioned by the RAC Foundation estimated that up to 50,000 motorists turning 70 in 2013 would continue to drive when they were no longer fit to do so.

The report, carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory, said both the government and the medical profession needed to give more support to those making a self-assessment of their fitness to drive.

In 2011, an 85-year-old man from North Wales pleaded guilty of causing death by driving without due care and attention after he continued to drive for three miles without realising he had driven through a group of cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring another.

There are now more than 1 million people in the UK aged over 80 who have a driving licence, making it highly likely that many will be continuing to drive when no longer fit to do so.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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